WASHINGTON -- When Rep. Marcy Kaptur first came to Congress in 1983,
the Ohio Democrat was one of only 24 women in the House and Senate.
she became part of history when a record 98 women - 20 in the Senate
and 78 in the House - took their place in the new 113th Congress. Though
they are not a majority, women serving in Congress and experts who have
watched the rise in political power of women say they can make a
bring a breadth of experience that will be important to the work of
every committee," said Kaptur, who is dean of women in the House. "They
bring life experience and perceptions that have been missing here. I
hope the operations of Congress will change and be more productive and
The last Congress was notable for its lack of productivity and its rancor. Job approval ratings for the 112th Congress reached record lows, in the single digits of Gallup and other public opinion polls.
There was a fresh start Thursday, and women are in position to make an impact.
In the Democratic-controlled Senate, Maryland's Barbara Mikulski is
the first woman to wield the chairman's gavel at the Appropriations
Committee, which allocates federal spending for nearly all programs.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray leads the Budget Committee and California's
Dianne Feinstein heads up the Intelligence Committee. Michigan's Debbie
Stabenow leads the Agriculture Committee, California's Barbara Boxer is
chair of the Environment Committee and Louisiana's Mary Landrieu is in
charge at the Small Business Committee.
the House side, where Republicans are in power, Rep. Cathy McMorris
Rodgers of Washington holds the fourth-highest position in the GOP
leadership, as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference. There are
no Republican women in charge of high-profile committees, but Rep.
Candice Miller of Michigan is chairwoman of the House Administration
Committee, which deals with such issues as office budgets and technology
sworn-in Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., said she's not bothered by low
approval ratings for Congress or the fact that new members have major
issues such as spending cuts to tackle right away.
"This is the
people's business, and the people's business never stops. It's a 24-7
endeavor," Walorksi said. "I ran to be a part of the solutions."
her remarks on the House floor, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested
ways Congress could increase the number of women and boost overall
diversity in the chamber.
"We must increase the level of civility and reduce the role of money in our elections," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
Mandel, the founder of the Center for American Women and Politics and
director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University,
cautions that the presence of women alone won't change Congress by
But she said their ranks could make a difference on issues
such as the Violence Against Women Act, a law first crafted by Vice
President Biden when he was a senator in 1994. The law, which deals with
the prosecution and investigation of domestic and sexual abuse, was
renewed without fanfare in 2000 and 2005 but ran into opposition last
year in the House.
"I can't say because the women are there that
we won't go over the next fiscal cliff," Mandel said. "But women have a
historic opportunity to become a formidable force for no-nonsense
problem solving and leadership."